Big Sky Roundup

Historic election, shakeup, in mayor’s races in Missoula, Bozeman

By: - November 8, 2023 6:19 pm

Missoula hasn’t had a woman elected as mayor since 1947, but that changed Tuesday, and Andrea Davis will be sworn into office later this month.

Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly backed Davis, director of the housing nonprofit Homeword, over Realtor and Missoula City Councilor Mike Nugent.

Bozeman saw a shakeup in its mayor’s race as well, with tenants-rights candidate Joey Morrison beating out 13-year incumbent Cyndy Andrus and a local lawyer.

In Missoula, Mayor John Engen died of pancreatic cancer in August 2022 after a record 200 months serving as popular leader of his hometown.

Wednesday, Davis said the outcome was still sinking in for her.

“This is the first time that Missoula has had this robust of a civic conversation around leadership and who they want to lead their city,” Davis said.

She will be sworn into office to complete Engen’s term as soon as the votes are canvassed, scheduled for Nov. 20, and she said her first order of business will be meeting with senior city leadership.

“These are folks that have been working tirelessly to keep the city functioning and managing all departments,” Davis said. “And I know this is a group of people that have also had a lot of transition in their lives, so I’m eager to sit down with them and hear their perspectives and learn from them.”

In 1947, Missoula elected Juliet Gregory as mayor, and historic records note she irritated citizens when her administration installed parking meters downtown.

Davis said she knows people voted for her because she’s experienced, qualified and represents a fresh alternative. But she said she’s also a woman, and people have been calling to congratulate her on the historic win.

“‘You realize you’ve made history,’” Davis said people tell her. “And it is weird to say that, but it’s true … (and) I am so honored to be a part of that story for Missoula.”

As for pressing issues, she said the Missoula City Council postponed a decision around updating an ordinance to make the city compliant with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision on urban camping, so that topic will be front and center in December.

In 2018, the Ninth Circuit said people who are homeless can’t be punished for sleeping in public spaces if a city doesn’t have enough alternatives for them.

Davis also said she’ll be working with other cities in Montana on property taxes. Local governments (cities and counties) and the state have clashed when it comes to how local and state jurisdictions pay and levy for services; at least three related lawsuits are currently pending.

In Bozeman, Morrison said in a Facebook post that it’s hard to find words that “represent what this victory means for our city.” Morrison helped form Bozeman Tenants United, and it has described him as a champion for the working class.

Morrison, 28, will serve two years as deputy mayor and then take over as mayor in 2026, per the city’s charter, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Bozeman has some of the most expensive, least affordable houses in Montana.

The median rent is $2,350, according to Zillow. The median cost of a single-family home is $936,250 there, and a condo is $540,000, according to the Bozeman Real Estate Group.

In his social media post, Morrison said he was born and raised in Miles City, but Bozeman is his home. Over the years, he said he’s watched economically depressed parts of the state be cast aside and prosperous parts be exploited.

“I dream about a working class that determines the present and future of Montana, that decides every election, that occupies every elected body because, to me, that is the only way we get to a livable world for not just ourselves but for future generations,” Morrison said.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.